Striking doctors put mothers-to-be and their babies at risk

Striking doctors put mothers-to-be and their babies at risk as C-sections are axed, charities warn

  • NHS leaders fear latest round of walkouts will be the most disruptive yet 

Striking doctors are putting mothers-to-be and their babies at risk by causing delays to caesarean births, charities have warned.

Non-emergency caesarean sections are among the thousands of operations and procedures being postponed because of industrial action this week.

Consultants and junior doctors yesterday launched co-ordinated strike action in what NHS leaders fear will be the most disruptive walkout yet.

It has left many expectant mothers facing postponements to their elective caesareans, despite the potential risks of harm.

Experts said the disruption was causing ‘distress and anxiety’ to heavily pregnant women, with one describing how she must now wait until a week after her due date.

Junior doctors and consultants picket outside University College Hospital at the beginning of a three-day strike over pay in London. The 72-hour work stoppage is the second joint walkout by groups of junior doctors and NHS consultants

‘Claps don’t pay the bills’: Junior doctors, consultants and supporters gather in front of the University College Hospital as they go on strike in September in an ongoing salary dispute with the Government

Forcing women to have vaginal births against their wishes could amount to ‘a breach of human rights law’, another charity said.

READ MORE: NHS hospitals ‘are paying doctors up to £7,900 a shift to cover striking colleagues who are ”ripping off” the health service’

It comes amid reports that doctors are cashing in on the walkouts, with NHS hospitals paying their own medics up to £7,900 a shift to cover for striking colleagues.

Chancellor Jeremy Hunt, a former health secretary, yesterday said the latest walkouts were taking patient safety ‘close to the line’.’I don’t think we should be taking any risks at all with patient safety,’ he told Times Radio. ‘We’ve offered doctors an above inflation pay rise – it wasn’t the Government’s suggestion, it was a suggestion that came from an independent pay review body.’

The three-day walkout is the longest-ever joint strike between consultants and junior doctors, with the total number of axed operations and appointments now standing at more than one million.

Cancer patients can also expect disruption to vital tests as radiologists walk out for 24 hours from 8am today.

NHS chiefs said the strikes were having a ‘growing’ impact on patients, with delays going beyond elective operations.

Matthew Hopkins, chief executive of Mid and South Essex Foundation Trust, said continuing disruption for patients and staff is ‘unacceptable’. He told a board meeting: ‘It is also delaying mums giving birth, because we are seeing delays now in being able to conduct our elective caesarean sections.’ One expectant mother described her distress at being told at 39 weeks that her planned caesarean would not be possible this week.

The woman, who chose to remain anonymous, has a medical condition, with doctors having already expressed concern about the size of her baby.

Senior doctor’s pay in England is more than New Zealand, Spain, Italy, France, and Portugal, according to figures from the Nuffield Trust

Striking Junior doctors and consultants organised by the BMA are joined by members of the UNITE trade union, on strike in September for more pay

She had initially felt ‘huge relief’ at the decision to have a planned caesarean but this has been taken away because of the strikes. 

READ MORE: Militant BMA is accused of ‘threatening to withdraw emergency strike cover’ in massive row with NHS as hospitals cancel planned C-sections in heavily-pregnant women

‘I feel like I have now lost all control of the birth,’ she told Sky News. ‘The earliest replacement date is more than a week after my due date.’ 

Shauna Leven, chief executive of Twins Trust, said multiple pregnancies are naturally higher risk, with late changes potentially increasing anxiety for those preparing for birth.

She said: ‘Timing of delivery is directly linked to safety of the baby for multiple births. It’s about what’s best for mother and baby. Any deviation from the planned birth could compromise its safety.’

Fleur Parker, from the National Childbirth Trust, said: ‘We would encourage anyone affected by the strike action to urgently speak to their midwife.’ Shanthi Gunesekera, co-chief executive of charity Birthrights, said: ‘Substantially delaying or cancelling planned C-sections without adequate communication and without due regard to individual circumstances may result in a breach of human rights law.’

Professor Phil Banfield, the British Medical Association’s chairman of council, said: ‘We take delays to planned caesarean births very seriously. Our first concern is the safety of women and their babies, and all options are considered by our clinical teams before postponing planned caesarean births.’

The Department of Health said: ‘During industrial action, the NHS will prioritise resources to protect emergency care and neonatal and maternity services.’

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